Last June, during New York's pride parade, Lady Gaga had a rare day off. She and her crew just landed in the city and wanted to go out to a bar. As always, her longtime glam team—makeup artist Sarah Tanno and hair stylist and wig maker Frederic Aspiras—rose to the occasion. In ten minutes, Tanno used neon paints to make a rainbow eye look while Aspiras whipped out a wig with 22-inches of long, platinum blonde hair.
"It was just a casual day! We went around the corner for a drink, and that's what happened. Isn't that funny?" Tanno recalls. Aspiras agrees, laughing, "I feel like sometimes our most casual days turn out to be so dramatic."
That's the thing—every time Lady Gaga steps out, it's an event. Her Haus of Gaga beauty team, most of whom have been with her for ten(!) years, makes sure of it. With the movie A Star Is Born newly released and Gaga in full-on promotion mode for her silver screen debut, her hair and makeup looks have been especially stellar: Frosted silver lids and platinum Veronica Lake waves. White liner and curtain bangs. Blue metallic wings and an intricately braided crown.
Aspiras describes the process of creating these looks "like The Amazing Race meets RuPaul's Drag Race." Whether it's for her appearances on the red carpet, film and TV, live performances, or a worldwide tour, Aspiras and Tanno—who spend up to 20 hours a day together and describe their relationship as both "brother and sister" and "creative soulmates"—constantly work to surprise and inspire people with their creations on Gaga.
Tanno, originally from Cleveland, started out at a M.A.C counter and juggled odd jobs—bartending, waitressing, and being a club promoter—all while working on her portfolio and training in makeup for fashion, film, and special effects. She remembers she got the call to join Gaga's team in 2009 when she was down to the last $1000 in her account. She first started out doing Gaga's dancers on tour and learning from other artists Gaga worked with like Billy B, Val Garland, and James Kalliardos before earning her spot as her lead artist in 2014. "I wanted it so bad that I just had to be persistent," she says. "[Gaga] really saw something in me. I worked really hard until I was ready."
Aspiras grew up working in his mom's salon in San Francisco then moved on to study hair and wig making. He also worked as a makeup artist and continued collaborating on fashion and celebrity shoots with connections made in LA (he moved in 2004) when he got called to join Gaga for her Monster Ball tour in 2009. "We were on the cusp of doing something great," he says, "I think fate put this team together."
Over the phone, the team—situated in Tanno's home in LA—finish each other's sentences. The laughter is constant and the pure excitement over what they do is palpable. Ahead, they exclusively tell ELLE.com what it takes to help create the image for one of the world's biggest superstars.
Gaga's beauty look usually starts with her inspirations.
"She always has this very strong vision and very strong opinion about what she wants. A lot of times, it starts with the clothes," Tanno says. For instance, at the Venice Film Festival she wore an incredible Valentino pink feather gown that warranted a pulled-back, classic beauty look. "I wanted to play on that and make it a little more ethereal where you could see her glowing skin and sparkling eyes and nothing was distracting from the beautiful moment of her first premiere. I felt like I was never going to have a more important red carpet," Tanno recalls.
"I swatched probably 60 lipsticks before I picked the perfect pink. It had to be timeless." Meanwhile, Aspiras did more than 20 sketches before settling on the slicked back, swirled bun updo Gaga wore. "It was about her face and not taking away from the moment. Thank god we put it up, because it was raining!" he says. "It was so magical."
Every beauty look is meticulously planned.
Once Gaga settles on her inspiration, Tanno and Aspiras confer with each other before presenting anything to the singer. They also attend fittings and meet with her Haus of Gaga stylist team, Tom Eerbout and Sandra Amavor, to go over moods, references and to "marry our visions." "We look at films or books and tell each other what we're inspired by," Tanno says. "It's never like Freddie and I walk in on the day of the job and we're like 'This is what we're doing, Gaga.' It's never like that." Aspiras adds that exchanging references is everything, "A lot of our peers don't tend to share knowledge, but we strive to help each other."
Her glam team test-drives looks on themselves.
"I practice on myself before I present something to her just to get the method down a little better. I sometimes like to be alone with my makeup and my vision to conjure the look before presenting it," Tanno says. Aspiras will practice his technique in tests at his studio where he tries out color, cut, shape, and movement. "What I really do is see how this hairstyle moves in real life. I see it on Gaga and I study her movements. That's important—understand how your client moves in the hairstyle you created on them," he elaborates.
Her 2017 Superbowl performance was nerve-wrecking.
"It was one of the largest audiences she's ever had at one time. Gaga always has a trick—we didn't want to just bare her face right at the beginning," Tanno says of deciding to create the Swarovski crystal cover-up Gaga wore over her eyes. "I think I was crying because I just didn't know if the mask was going to come off. I had to figure out the right amount of tape, and what tape to use, and where to place it so that when she ripped it off to do 'A Million Reasons' her makeup underneath would still look flawless."
As for her hair, she started her performance up in an superhero-inspired then (gasp) let it down as she descended into the stadium. "It was so stressful. It. Was. Live! I went through numerous types of hair products that had a strong hold but kept the hair soft and movable," Aspiras recalls, adding that he also had to find the right hair pin that could keep the style up but come out mid-performance, "I even went over the weather and climate that evening to make sure it was in our favor. The wind was just perfect that day."
They always have fun creating looks for the Grammy Awards.
From her corseted Game of Thrones-esque braid and smoky glittery eyes in 2018 to pink streaks and red eyeshadow to "bring the lower east side Gaga back" for a performance with Metallica in 2016, the singer never disappoints on music's biggest night. For her glam team, the Grammys are always an opportunity to "kick it up a notch" as Tanno says.
The Bowie homage from 2016 , in particular, stands out as "one of the craziest experiences" because she had to work with Intel on face mapping and recreating the late music icon's looks to project on Gaga's face. Meanwhile, Aspiras got the chance to create a Ziggy Stardust-inspired, extra long and red mullet and a pompadour look. "It was definitely one of my more fun wig moments," he remembers, "It was a beautiful, fiery moment. It was an honor to pay tribute to such a legend."
They are always aware of how influential Gaga's beauty looks are.
Tanno recalls the day after the 2018 Grammys being tagged in hundreds of fan recreations of her starry night-inspired eyes. But, the Gaga Effect is strong not only among makeup and hair enthusiasts on Instagram, but across the fashion industry. "I feel like a lot of times when we do a big red carpet, we see it reinvented in fashion shows and editorials," Tanno says. "To me, that is the highest compliment of everything."